Please visit my website:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Live Auction Selling Tips ...

... or how not to get taken for a ride by a glib auctioneer.

There's almost nothing scarier than buying at a live auction for the first time. Almost, I said. Because there is one thing even more intimidating. And that is entrusting an auction house with your valuable antiques.

I have some horror stories, and one in particular stands out in my mind. It was pretty early on in my antiques career, and among the items I put up for auction at a local auction house was a fantastic bronze basket that I was told was either 17th or 18th century, and very rare. I told the auctioneer how it should be described, and he diligently wrote down exactly what I told him. And I put a low reserve on it (he said it would go higher, but he insisted that it should start at an attractive price in order to get the bidding going ... and I agreed).

A week before the auction, I attended the viewing ... excited to be seeing my pieces in the catalog and on display. I was appalled and angry when I saw that he had mis-described my basket as "a 20th century decorative basket." And to add insult to injury, he listed the basket as one of the last items of the auction ... and displayed it only as an ancillary decoration to a table he was selling (and not in the showcase windows, where the better items were displayed). All the bells and alarms went off in my head, and I confronted him. Told him I wanted to remove the item from the sale. He said "no." Simply, "no."

You might be saying to yourself, "silly girl, why did you listen to him?" But, at the time, I was so intimidated by him, and afraid that I wouldn't be welcome at his auctions if I just physically picked up my basket and walked out with it. There was really nothing he could have done, but I didn't know that.

Well, can you guess where this is going? Of course, the basket sold for the ridiculously low reserve price ... only a single bid. And nobody will convince me that it wasn't the auctioneer himself who bought it and resold it at its true value ... which I, unfortunately, will never know for sure.

So, what have we learned from my mistake?
1. Never let an auctioneer get the better of you ... it's YOUR item, YOU call the shots.
2. If the item is placed at the END of the catalog (especially if it's not displayed prominently during the viewing), WITHDRAW IT!!!!
3. And this goes almost without saying: If the item is misdescribed in the catalog, WITHDRAW IT!!!!
4. And the most important lesson (for the upteenth time): ALWAYS GO WITH YOUR GUT FEELING!


TC Leary said...

Great advice especially since few of us have had the experience and may only have occasion to use the live auction house for a major piece. An error couod be very costly. Thanks Erica.

cobayley said...

Oh was always so easy when eBay was working right. You took a picture, listed your items and made a lot of money...Please don't tell me that brick and mortar auction houses are not well, "up to snuff?"